The Movie “Most Likely to Succeed” is a Paid Infomercial for Project Based Learning

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At the beginning of the school year, I went to a showing of Most Likely to Succeed in Bellevue, Washington. I was irritated by the premise that High Tech High – which has been heavily subsidized by Gates – was held up as the answer to the movie’s depiction of public education as the factory model of education, which, according to the movie, is killing kids’ love of learning with its emphasis on a rigid curriculum and over testing. Of course, Gate’s role in forcing common core and high stakes testing into public schools wasn’t mentioned in the film. Big surprise.

At a school which prides itself on encouraging thoughtful, critical thinkers my high schooler was required to watch “Most Likely Succeed” and told to “get inspired” by one of the vice principals. Parents had no idea this was happening, and were only informed after the fact.

During the mandatory classroom discussion after the movie, my kid was skeptical, pointing out the connection of the movie to the charter chain, Big Picture Learning, and how the movie was essentially propaganda. The teacher facilitating the discussion decided to argue and let the rest of the class know my kid was wrong.

At the beginning of the school year, I went to a showing of Most Likely to Succeed in Bellevue, Washington. I was irritated by the premise that High Tech High – which has been heavily subsidized by Gates – was held up as the answer to the movie’s depiction of public education as the factory model of education, which, according to the movie, is killing kids’ love of learning with its emphasis on a rigid curriculum and over testing. Of course, Gate’s role in forcing common core and high stakes testing into public schools wasn’t mentioned in the film. Big surprise.

The most enlightening part of the evening was the discussion after the movie. Guess who was on the panel?

  • Jeff Petty, Regional Director of Big Picture Schools
  • Jen Wickens, formerly of Summit, and currently Co-Founder and CEO of IMPACT Public Schools – a charter chain specializing in project based learning trying to make inroads in the region.

Big Picture Learning also operates high schools which specialize in project based learning in Washington State. These schools are located at Highline, Bellevue, Issaquah, Chelan, and Twist. Showing Most Likely to Succeed to high school students in Seattle and telling them to “get inspired” isn’t a neutral act, in my opinion.

Here’s the irony of this whole sad affair: I wasn’t going to write about Most Likely to Succeed – but here we are. For the last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of education activism and where our public schools are headed. I’m not seeing a lot of hope. The looming destruction has made me tired, but mostly sad.

I’m sad my kids go to schools where lawlessness is the district norm, rather than the exception to the rule. Where principals know they can do whatever they want and won’t be held accountable, no matter how questionable the behavior. In my district, principals know any sort of suspect behavior will be excused after the fact by the suits downtown.

I’m sad schools that want to embrace equity and Black Lives Matter don’t see this in direct conflict with using Teach Like A Champion – the handbook for no-excuse charter schools which put kids on the pathway to the school to prison pipeline – as a professional development tool.

I’m sad activist and union leaders value the preservation of institutions over the needs of the people who make up these organizations.

I’m sad that read and re-Tweet activism has pushed out critical thinking and uncomfortable conversations.

I’m sad civic engagement has devolved into marketing strategies, where the rich and powerful use the delphi method to control the conversation and push their already decided upon solution.

I’m sad education activists in my state are letting Democrats off the hook with McCleary and have also given up on the battle over smaller class size.

Mostly, I’m sad that as a society we have lost our moral compass.

We no longer see kids as unique individuals to be nurtured, loved and protected. Instead, we’ve accepted the idea that it’s OK to turn children are commodities. Widgets which can be data mined, profiled, molded and manipulated into profit making vehicles for adults – snake-oil salesmen who we welcome with open arms into what is left of our public schools.

-Carolyn Leith

Correction: I’ve received many emails pointing out Big Picture Learning’s school in Highline isn’t a charter school. Instead, it falls under Washington State’s law regarding innovative schools. This goes for the other schools operated by Big Picture Learning in the state.

ALEC was behind the push for states to adopt innovate schools regulations and provided model legislation for doing so. According to ALEC Exposed:

This “model” legislation creates a new term of art for schools to allow them to change rules and legal obligations, including waiving provisions of collective bargaining agreements: “districts of innovation.” This is, in essence, a way to create charter schools within the public school system and again, like many ALEC corporate proposals, targets changing worker’s rights and the rules for teacher pay, pensions, hours, and other conditions of employment. The bill would give chartering authority for these so-called “innovative schools” to state-level officials, even though the bill purports to respect the tradition of local administration of schools systems. (emphasis mine)

You can read ALEC’s The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act model legislation here.  Click here to look up the waivers granted by the State Board of Education to Big Picture Learning.

To learn more about the venture capitalist behind Most Likely to Succeed, start here: Ted Dintersmith is Not Here to Save Neighborhood Schools!

 

 

 

 

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